There has been a slow and methodical breakdown in American social contracts over the years. In my few years as an upright and mildly productive member of society I have noticed a few things in today’s fast-paced, self-centered world that have melted away. As people race through the world seemingly always on there way to somewhere other than where they are currently located many written and unwritten rules of life have fallen by the wayside with no apologies to be made for the casualties. As a student of society, people, and the human condition these items are of glaring importance yet regarded as unimportant details. In this series of articles I will highlight those actions and situations where respect for the order of things has been lost and the resulting chasm creates great friction for those with a first hand and personal knowledge of how things should be for society to function under these seemingly universally understood rules.
In this country our cities have become so large and sprawling that getting around them has become of utter importance to operate smoothly on a day to day basis. In the old days of villages and small towns you could walk everywhere you needed to go in your limited world you inhabited. At worst you may need to take the horse and cart to town, but for the most part you got to where you needed to under your own power, via bike or foot. Today though, with the overpopulated cities and metropolitan cities you need a tool at your disposal that can get the job done, the motorized vehicle.
There has been a breakdown though in the operation of vehicles. Nowhere in society are we more self-consumed and intolerant than in our vehicles. There, in our two and four-door worlds we talk on the phone, listen to music, eat, drink, smoke, fuck, and yell in a most public yet private situation. With all that we do in our cars it seems some of the operational necessities of the heavy machinery has fallen by the wayside, no one thing more glaringly obvious than the utter neglectful use, or lack there of, than the turn signal, or ‘directional’ to those I knew in Wisconsin. The turn signal is the most misused and forgetten piece of equipment a car has to offer. Though it is legally required for all vehicles to operate on city streets and highways, it seems that we have evolved beyond the proper use of it. Who can be bothered with a turn signal when we are talking, listening to music, or eating our breakfast in traffic?
The turn signal is to let those around you know what you are going to be doing very shortly in traffic so that those around you can adjust their speed and just be aware of your next action. Is this so hard? With the flick of your finger it comes on, and after a turn it automatically turns off, or at least it is supposed to. Living in California I see that this piece of equipment has little to no use outside of frustrating drivers. Rarely is it used, far too often are break lights your only warning of a change in the flow of traffic. For all I know the guy in front of me is breaking for traffic, but suddenly he slams on the wheel squealers and makes an abrupt right. Sure, to him it wasn’t abrupt, he knew about it when he left the house this morning, but I missed that memo and so now I am left with a coffee stained crotch as this gentleman arrives to his destination unaware of your scalding lap situation.
The turn signal isn’t just for turns though, now is it. Changing lanes is the other use it is made for, but this situation leads to quite a headache does it not? A driver is supposed to signal three seconds, before changing lanes. How terrifying is it for you when a driver just starts coming in to your lane without a care for their blind spot or that weird stick coming out the left side of the steering column. Not so bad when they are leaving your lane, but when a driver blindly realizes that they need to get over, all others be damned, especially when it is jumping lanes to get to a left turn lane, using the minimal space in between you and the guy you’re following to make that last minute jump without a care for anything but their schedule. Nothing better than flipping the bird as you pass the guy who cut you off to get in to the 7-11 parking lot for his Slim Jim and Mountain Dew fix.
In California this problem is rampant. It seems to be a state wide boycott of situational awareness and planning ahead. Jumping from the fast lane over four others to grab Exit 84A, narrowly cutting off the quintessential bus full of nuns and breezing right over solid white lines while to slip right past the car barrels filled with tepid water for the daredevil without the faculties to pull it off. Nowhere is this scene of last minute death runs and carefully orchestrated ballet of near collisions more harrowing than in the grips of LA. Here it is every man for himself in a race to get where you are going while keeping that trip a secret to everyone but yourself. There everyone is late to be where they are going and willing to pull off just about any Duke’s of Hazard style move to get there. I refuse to drive in LA being as I have not been in this state long enough to have hardened my nerves to the Death Race 3000-like derby that takes place almost 24 hours a day. I have never encountered a drug up to the task of preparing my mind and body for the break checks and blockbuster-level stunts it takes to get from point A to point B in LA county.
The epidemic-like problem of directional neglect seems to become worse with the vehicle in question. It seems to be an unwritten rule that there is a select number of drivers that are actually exempt from the responsible operation of a vehicle. Owners of vehicles in the price range of $50,000 and higher seem to have a special exemption license from following any rules of the road they deem unreasonable. The first thing to go is the speed limit. Drivers in this price range see the speed limit as either a challenge or a mere suggestion. Second to go is the turn signal. This useless standard feature is analog technology. In these expensive vehicles it either needs to be a push button action, voice command activated, or simply automatic or it simply won’t do. Owners of these cars are annoyed they haven’t invented automated windshield wipers that sense rain for the driver. The third road rule to go out the window for the posh and luxurious driver in all the paint on the road. These strange colors and patterns are an alien language they have evolved beyond. Yellows, whites, reds, greens, and blues are of no concern to the rich. No passing lines, loading zones, and standard parking spots do not apply to the wealthy driver. A single parking space will not do for their vehicle, they must have at least two parking spots, and if there is justice in this world they will be able to just park perpendicular to those lines taking up a tidy three spots, which they both need and deserve. I know I’ve seen a Rolls-Royce parked in this manner, but I can’t recall ever seeing a Datsun pull off this audacious move.
No matter the price of your vehicle we are all guilty of these wild and irresponsible moves on the road. The traffic weaving, not signaling, and speeding are all regular infractions, often made while distracted in some way. It amazes me that we get in to vehicles that are classified as deadly weapons and then so nonchalantly drive them with at least mild disregard for safety on a regular basis. We all think that drivers around are moving too slow, too fast, or too recklessly…while we scarf down a burrito between radio stations and shake our heads at the guy on the cell phone. Every day we put ourselves on to the road with every moron and asshole in the city, so we think, and everyday they never cease to amaze us with their daft stupidity and ignorance of the few laws we each decide are the ones to follow. Don’t forget though, as we scream and yell and tisk tisk at every other driver around us, every other driver on the road fucking hates the way you drive, too, so… (honking noises) “Hey, get off your fucking cell phone! Stupid bastard I’m writing here…oh shit that’s my exit, coming through!”